The speaking section of your IELTS test can be a scary prospect. But by trusting in the hard work you’ve put in, it can also be your chance to show the examiner just how far your English language skills have come.
Here, our global IELTS expert Hazan Hayaloğlu shares her top eight tips for excelling in the speaking section of your IELTS test.
If you are preparing for an exam, please be aware that for the latest information on exam format you should always go straight to the source – IELTS. For IELTS test-takers, you can practice free online Academic Writing tests or General Training Writing tests. You can also practice writing your answer by downloading an IELTS Writing Answer Sheet.
What is the IELTS speaking section?
Before we get into any tips, it’s worth running through the three main parts of the IELTS speaking section.
- Part one – this is where you answer questions about yourself and your family.
- Part two – here, you will give a one-to-two-minute speech on a topic presented to you by the examiner.
- Part three – you and the examiner will now have a longer discussion about the topic presented in part two.
Now let’s look at the top tips for boosting your performance in the speaking section of your IELTS test.
1. Try to relax!
Most language learners would agree that speaking is the most challenging skill to master. You need to construct error-free sentences, think about the appropriate vocabulary and proper pronunciation, avoid direct translation from your native language, convey the right message, use the right tone and connect your ideas in an organised manner. Slightly overwhelming!
With so much on your mind, relaxing won’t be easy, but it’s important to remember that the examiner isn’t focusing on your mistakes, rather on the positive aspects of your speech. They are there to see what you can do, not what you can’t, and will try their best to make you feel comfortable. Think of it as a short chat with a friend. It’s all about communication – something you are used to doing every day.
Also, remember you’re not being assessed on your knowledge about specific topics. IELTS speaking topics are based on your life, experiences and opinions. For example, you may be asked to talk about your pet, your hometown, your best friend or your job. Most people love speaking about themselves, so just relax and do your best. There are no right or wrong answers!
2. Extend your answers
Speaking at length is a chance to show how fluent you are. Get into the habit of giving reasons for your answers. If the examiner keeps asking ‘why?’, then you are not elaborating enough. Fluency is one of the four IELTS assessment criteria, and to sound fluent, you will need to maintain a good flow of speech. So don’t be afraid you are saying too much!
Look at these example answers to see the difference between a fluent and non-fluent speaker.
Examiner: What is your favourite pet animal?
Candidate: My favourite pet animal is a cat.
Candidate: Because they are cute.
Examiner: What is your favourite pet animal?
Candidate: My favourite pet animal is a cat. I have always found myself drawn to cats because of their independent nature.
Candidate: Unlike dogs, cats are low maintenance. They don’t require a lot of space and they are cheap to feed. We can leave them alone at home all day and they don’t panic or get lonely. They also make great company for us because they are beautiful, purring, intelligent pets that love and entertain us every day.
3. Make the most of your one minute
In part two of the speaking section – where you will speak about a given topic – the examiner will give you one minute to prepare your speech. Use this time wisely!
Don’t panic if you are not familiar with the topic; you can make up a story, or put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and tell the story from their perspective. For example, if you need to talk about a sporting event you attended, and you’re not a sports fan, you could put yourself in the shoes of a friend who is a sports fan and talk about their experience as if it was your own. There is no right or wrong answer; you are only being evaluated on your speaking skills.
The points you are expected to cover will be displayed on a cue card, so I recommend using your one minute to quickly write down keywords (sentences take too long) on your notepaper, to refer to if you get stuck. You can add additional points in case you run out of things to say. For a satisfactory fluency score, you’ll need to keep going without making too many pauses, so these notes will come in handy!
4. Don’t memorise!
Speaking section questions follow a common pattern. In part one, you’ll be asked about personal topics, like your hometown, job or hobbies. Part two focuses on your experiences, so you could be describing a place, person or object. Part three use a discussion about your opinions related to the topic from part two.
While it certainly pays off equipping yourself with relevant vocabulary and common phrases and collocations (common word grouping), it’s important to avoid memorising large chunks of speech. Examiners are trained to identify memorised responses and will mark you down for this.
Instead, I recommend studying topical vocabulary, by grouping words into categories, such as sport or film. This approach can also help you improve your vocabulary for other sections of the IELTS test – and the wider your vocabulary, the better your score!
5. Speak clearly and at a natural speed
Try not to rush your speech. Speaking too fast won’t improve your fluency score and could result in you making more mistakes. Instead, remain calm, speak clearly, and maintain your natural speed. And don’t worry about your accent; all accents are welcome in the IELTS test. Just ensure you pronounce your words correctly.
6. Don’t give up!
There are three common cases where you might feel like giving up. All I can say is: don’t!
The first is when you can’t find the exact word you are looking for. If this happens, avoid any long pauses and try to paraphrase or look for other ways explain what you mean.
The second is when you aren’t familiar with a topic or have no opinions on an issue. If this happens, use your creativity to make every effort to answer the question. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone who has experienced the situation will help you generate ideas more quickly.
The third is when you don’t understand the examiner’s question. If this happens, you can always ask for clarification (but try to avoid asking too many questions).
7. Record yourself
If you haven’t got the opportunity to practise with an English native speaker, you can still achieve a lot by practising on your own. How? By recording your practice sessions and evaluating yourself based on the four IELTS assessment criteria: fluency, lexical resource (your range of vocabulary), grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation.
Go over your recording to identify your weaknesses. Could you have used better vocabulary? How fluent were you? Could you have used more complex structures? How was your pronunciation? Work on your shortcomings until you produce a better recording.
8. Know what to expect
If you are taking the IELTS test for the first time, it helps to familiarise yourself with the format and grading criteria. Knowing what to expect will really help to calm your nerves.
I recommend knowing the answers to the following questions before taking the test:
- How long is it?
- How many parts are there?
- What am I expected to do in each part?
- What are the grading criteria?
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